Workers' union considers legal action over Beijing-level pollution in Toronto subway system

The union representing TTC workers says it will be talking to its own expert about the potential effects of pollution in the subway system.

It follows the release of a Health Canada study Tuesday that found the air quality in the system is similar to that of Beijing, China.

The study found the amount of fine particulate matter was about ten times higher than at street level.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 demanded answers on when the TTC first learned about the study and what it has done about the issue.

Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Morton said, "Transit workers and riders want to be assured they haven't been exposed to harmful pollution by simply putting in an honest day's work or commuting to a job."

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green talked about the issue on NEWSTALK 1010's The Rush. He says the TTC last conducted air quality testing in 1995 and is planning new testing this year. "In nearly 300 air quality samples that were taken in 1995, there was zero indication that there was any risk," he said.

Green also notes that the occupational health and safety studies done by the TTC are different from the air quality testing performed by Health Canada.

Morton says the union is consulting its lawyers about a possible class-action lawsuit.

NEWSTALK 1010's Chief Legal Analyst & criminal defence attorney, Edward Prutschi, and NEWSTALK 1010 host & employment and labour lawyer Howard Levitt say class-action suits are possible, but not likely.  

Both Prutschi and Levitt say it would be highly unlikely for union workers to successfully be certified as a 'class' by the courts because a judge would probably tell them to take the issue to the labour board, with the help of its union, and file a grievance.  

The lawyers say it would be possible for riders or cafe/convenience kiosk workers to sue the TTC but they would have to be able to use the science to prove that the pollution made their condition worse, or made them sick in the first place.  

Prutschi says it would be tough because one could argue there's a reasonable expectation that you're going to find pollution in the subway tunnels and the TTC can only reasonably do so much to get rid of it and make the air cleaner.


With files from James Moore